Renewing Our Worship: Authority

We have this false doctrine, this peculiar notion, that everything we do in church requires authority. We inherited this doctrine, known as the Regulative Principle, from (of all people) John Calvin. It’s amazing, you know, that we can be as staunchly anti-Calvinistic as we are and yet build our entire theology around a doctrine invented by Calvin.

I’ll not go into all the reasons that the authority argument is so wrong here. I’ve dealt with it here. In this post, I want to talk about what the real theology is.

We begin in 1 Cor 14 —

(1 Cor 14:2-5)  For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. 3 But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.

Now, when I was a kid, we never studied this chapter. In fact, in Bible class at Lipscomb, in the course on 1 & 2 Corinthians, my professor skipped this chapter. The reason, of course, was that we were in the midst of a denominational crisis over gifts of the Spirit. Nonetheless, in my upbringing, 1 Cor 14 was considered impenetrably difficult because we so focused on the tongues aspect of the chapter.

But the chapter actually has a lot to say about our assemblies. You see, Paul was confronted with the question of whether to allow prophecy and tongues in the assembly. He addressed the question pragmatically: do tongues and prophecy fulfill the purpose of the assembly?

He doesn’t ask or even begin to address the question of whether they are authorized. Paul doesn’t say, “They aren’t in the list of the five acts of worship and so they are prohibited.” No, Paul just asks whether they help fulfill the assembly’s purpose.

In fact, in v 3 he concludes that prophecy is permissible because it  provides “strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” He notes in v 4 that prophecy “edifies the church.” Therefore, prophecy is allowed.

However, tongues do not strengthen, encourage, comfort, or edify, and so they are not permitted.

But then Paul begins making exceptions.

(1 Cor 14:27-31)  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two–or at the most three–should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.

Tongues aren’t banned because they are unauthorized. They aren’t permitted because they are authorized. Rather, they are permitted when an interpreter is preseant because, with an interpreter, they edify.

Neither is prophecy inherently permitted as authorized. It’s only permitted if the prophets take turns and don’t interrupt each other. You see, even prophecy only edifies if done right.

Finally, Paul is concerned with the practical impact on visitors —

(1 Cor 14:23-25)  So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

Tongues aren’t permitted if they make you look crazy. Add an interpreter, though, and the miracle is evident and they are permitted. Just so, prophecy demonstrates God’s power, unless, of course, the prophets are rude.

Now, this makes perfect sense. Rather than agonizing over what’s an aid, an expedient, or an addition, we simply consider the practical impact of what we do. Will it edify, encourage, strengthen, or comfort those present? Will it impress visitors with the presence of God? Or will we seem self-indulgent, crazy, or rude?

These are questions we can answer. Some answers will vary from culture to culture, place to place. But that’s okay. It’s not about a semi-hidden list of do’s and don’ts. It’s about being effective in God’s church as community.

Of course, we must add to this the previous lesson. Plainly, encouragement to love and good works is part of the purpose of the assembly (Heb 10:24-25). It’s not the only purpose, but it’s a critically important purpose.

And so, let me make a simple, Biblical suggestion. If the worship leader comes to the elders and asks permission to lead a song during communion, ask: will this edify, encourage, comfort, or strengthen the church? Don’t ask: is there a scripture that authorizes singing during communion. It’s the wrong question.

Just so, if the elders meet with the people who want to encourage people to volunteer for the school supply drive for those too poor to buy their own, and if these people want an announcement made by a guy dressed up as a blue crayon, don’t ask whether we are authorized to wear pointy blue hats in church. Ask whether this might spur people to love and good works.

This radical approach to the assembly will, of course, exclude some things. I mean, hateful sermons about the sins of the church down the road will impress visitors with your pettiness and backbiting, not the presence of God. They have to be eliminated.

And songleaders who lead “Sing and Be Happy” or (worse yet) “O Happy Day” as though they were funeral dirges … well, there’s nothing edifying about that. Retrain them. Don’t let them convince visitors that we are against happiness!

(The following videos are for those who aren’t familiar with these Bible Belt standbys — or who wonder how much better they’d sound at the proper pace.)

(“Sing and Be Happy” comes after “Cherokee Shuffle.”)

Now, 1 Cor 14 changes everything. It’s tells us plainly and simply how to think about the assembly. It’s about fulfilling the assembly’s purpose, not following a bunch of rules in ways that frustrate the purpose of the assembly. It’s about understanding why we meet in the first place.

Let’s go back to Hebrews 10 —

(Heb 10:23-27)  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

V 23 is a simple but important lesson. Jesus will be faithful to us, and so we need to be faithful to him. Vv. 26-27 tells us what happens if we aren’t.

While we should have confidence in God’s promises (v 22), we should recognize how deceitful Satan can be. God’s grace is broad, but it has limits. We really can fall away. And the best way to stay true to God, to hold onto our hope, is to meet regularly and to do good works.

We need to be about God’s mission. We need to be serving others. And so we need to meet because our meetings help us do just that.

The purpose of Christianity is not to meet weekly and perform five rituals. Rather, we gather to help each other live the lives to which we’ve been called. And that which helps us do that is authorized. The use of the talents God has given us for that purpose is authorized.

Aids, additions, expedients, silences, and all that — well, they just don’t figure in. Helping each other make it to heaven, that is authorized. Even if we use a guitar to do it.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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17 Responses to Renewing Our Worship: Authority

  1. Alan says:

    Will it edify, encourage, strengthen, or comfort those present? Will it impress visitors with the presence of God?

    Those are exactly the right questions. But they are not questions that will lead to unanimous agreement, and they will not lead to uniform practice. We'll have to get used to diversity of practice if we are going to follow those principles.

    This will take a huge cultural change. When travelling, it will be pretty hard to find another church that does things just like my home congregation. I might have to worship with a church that does things (gasp) differently.

    Lines of fellowship will be a lot harder to draw (at least, to draw narrowly). That may be the biggest change. Our tent will have to get bigger.

  2. mark says:

    jay

    I'll just say very good. Very few people challenge me more than you. Our church this last week was showing some good signs of growth. So I need all the good ideas I can find.

    By the way we are struggling with our preaching. Is a sermon a message or lesson?

  3. Joe Baggett says:

    First of all Alan I like your post sometimes we don’t agree but this time we do. To avoid a re-comment from another post I’ll do a quick synopsis here. The “Authority” thing is an important issue here. The old method of determining authority is so inconsistent and based on pre-supposed ideas. In the other Post on the 16 acts of worship I stated anything that helps us renew our minds and transform us for our sinful nature to God’s nature it is authorized. I don’t care if it is standing on your head and walking backwards. If our assemblies (whatever and however we do things) don’t lead us to on going personal transformation then they become empty religious dogma. There are two scripture that explicitly state act of worship in the NT they say “be transformed by the renewing of you minds”, and “offer your bodies as living sacrifices” these are your spiritual act of worship. It doesn’t say sing, pray, give, take communion, preach, and sneak in some announcements; all these things and others are tools in the transformation process. To me transformation is the lens of authority.
    Remember Jesus was not afraid of ticking people off, especially religious people who thought they had it all figured out. I think that for some transformation to take place in the older Bible belt congregations we are going to have to risk ticking some people off. Hey it is better than just sitting there and letting the congregation die out by attrition!

  4. nick gill says:

    We NEED to worship with churches that do things differently! Different churches have different people, that bring different baggage with them and need different kinds and levels of attention — spiritual nurturing — to foster transformation into Christlikeness in their lives. That's just how God shaped people, and it is why small groups work so well when done with an eye towards mission and transformation rather than replicating a worship service in miniature.

  5. Joe Baggett says:

    You are oh so right Nick. Every time I hear "well we tried small gourps but they just didn't work" I go see and they just tried to replicate the sterile service from the normal Sunday evening in some one's home.

  6. Clint P. says:

    I like to think of the parable of the talents when it comes to authority. The servants didn't seem to be given specific directions on how to take care of the money. Are we paralyzing ourselves with fear of the slippery slope when it comes to worship? I tend to think we are.

  7. Reggie says:

    WOW ! Jay, Alan, Joe, Nick, Clint: you guys have BIG brains and these comments are so right on the mark; they promote the freedom and JOY that true worship from the heart can bring. Keep on bringing your great thinking and exposition to this forum.

    May God be praised in this manner.

  8. Jim Haugland says:

    While the major thrust of your posit is not to engage in our ongoing argument on the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, I do want to make a comment related to it to illustrate what Carl Ketcherside may have considered an example of "twisted scriptures" in an effort to maintain our scriptual orthodoxy. I Cor 13 does NOT say that all the supernatural gifts enumerated in I Cor 12 have ceased. It says at some future point in time, "when we shall see face to face" (Ge 32:30;Ex 33:11;Jgs 6:22;Rev 22:4) the imperfect gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge will cease. I count 3 gifts, not all of them. Now, how do these gifts differ with respect to edifying/encouraging the church? Tongues, IF interpreted, special knowledge and prophecies are revelatory gifts that imparted the revelations of God to the early church, whereas faith, wisdom, healings, miraculous powers and the distinguishing of spirits are conformational gifts of the Spirit's presence. IF there is NO interpretation of the tongue speaker (I Cor 14), then the revelations from God to the unbeliever will not be communicated and therefore useless for convicting the unbeliever. While the completed bible IS perfect/complete (teleios) in that it provides man what God has determined is sufficient to bring men to faith in Christ (i.e., salvation), it does not tell us everything that we want to know about God or other questions we raise in our study of God's word. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, we have focused on the extremes – Its only the indwelling word and/or that the supernatural gifts are either present today or have ceased altogether. The renewing and tranformational power (2 Cor 3:7-18) of the personal indwelling Spirit is all but eliminated from honest biblical discussion. Is it any wonder that the church lacks spiritual power, prefering the power of the intellect of man for spiritual direction while the world often rejects our evangelizing efforts because it sees little difference in the moral and ethical behavior of Christians and that of their neighbors?

  9. Jay Guin says:

    mark,

    "Is a sermon a message or a lesson?" I probably should post something on better sermons. Personally, I think there should be some of both. Lessons for new Christians or Christians who need to mature. Messages for all of us about getting out of our pews and serving in God's mission. But we likely have more lessons than we need and not enough messages — judging by the fact that we are far better at knowing stuff than doing stuff.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    nick,

    I totally agree that there's nothing particularly healthy about uniform worship. I mean, we don't insist that our families all do Thanksgiving or Sunday dinner the same way. Why should each gathering of believers be the same? And we'd all be better off learning from the art and wisdom of others.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Clint P.,

    You make a great point. The master just demanded a return on his investment. The refusal to take a chance resulted in damnation.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Jim,

    I agree that "that which is perfect" is definitely not the NT. See this series of posts from a long time ago: http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/t

    And you're exactly right. In my experience, the Spirit works more powerfully once we acknowledge the Spirit's role in our lives.

  13. Alan says:

    I agree that “that which is perfect” is definitely not the NT. See this series of posts from a long time ago.

    And here's my blog post presenting the opposite view. This is another of those topics on which Jay and I get to demonstrate Romans 14, accepting one another without passing judgment on disputable matters 😉

  14. I appreciate your work Jay. The Regulative Principle has a long history. I think worship is in fact regulated by the Lord. What we mean by that is the crux. In our book A Gathered People we suggest what a regulated assembly might look like (pp. 152-156). Not trying to sell any books but it might be a resource for some.

    Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine
    Tucson, AZ

  15. Jay Guin says:

    Despite disagreeing with me, Alan will go to heaven — where Paul will tell him that I'm right.

  16. Jay Guin says:

    Readers,

    I highly recommend Bobby's book, A Gathered People, written with Johnny Melton and John Mark Hicks. http://www.amazon.com/Gathered-People-Revisioning

    It is, in fact, one reason I'm not attempting a comprehensive theology of worship here. It's been done.

  17. paulsceptic says:

    "We have this false doctrine, this peculiar notion, that everything we do in church requires authority."

    This notion comes from Paul constantly attacking people in his letters. He's just waiting for a mistake so he can pounce and be super-apostle.

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